We called him Brad from Indymedia or Brad from New York or Badger when he did forest defense. He always had a big smile and a bigger hug for anyone he came across. “It’s all good bro,” he’d say, whether police were surrounding us or if he was inviting me to sleep on someone else’s floor. He was positive and encouraging and took an honest interest in everyone around him without criticism. He loved to help others, to tell stories, to sing and play the guitar. He was an anarchist who touched the lives of all sorts of people. As a catalyst he had the energy to kick-start any situation. His lanky, shirtless form filled any empty space, which made him hard to live with but great to pull off events with. He felt at home in any situation and could fit in anywhere, from riots, to playing with kids, to hanging out with people who spoke a different language.
Although from a wealthy background he eventually opened his eyes to injustice, and set about to change things. He took a stand for what he believed in and could see the big picture of how things worked in the world and how people are oppressed by large systems.
In the nineties he was a squatter and community gardener in New York, then a forest defender on the West Coast. When the WTO met in Seattle he worked with the Independent Media Center (IMC/Indymedia) from the beginning. After that he moved back to NY then he went to Europe and participated in some crazy riots. At some point he got a video camera and a new calling at protests. He used it to de-escalate, as a weapon and as a shield and all the while collecting peoples’ histories.
He really appreciated people, wherever they were at. Whether people were extremely militant or total pacifists he was down to work with them. He supported all kinds of events and was genuinely excited about it all. He was one of a rare breed that can appreciate everything. There are always debates among activists over whether we should organize big events or focus on organizing in the local community, record history or make it, educate or take action, defend the forest or work for social justice, smash a window or have a sit in, have a party or hold a meeting. To Brad the answer was, “Yes! Let’s go.” He would grab a ski mask or a sunflower hat, a video camera, a guitar or a bullhorn and get going. He had long hair that he often held back with a black t-shirt sleeve. This easily doubled as a mask.
“Even if one garden falls there are so many more to save.” Brad had a passion for life and found it wherever it flourished. He connected his energizing passion to the passion of others and found the living elements of an ecosystem or a community. He traveled the earth to preserve these beautiful places. He said shit straight up and opposed, “The complete leveling of culture, [the] clearcutting of values.”
For the last five years Brad had been traveling to Latin America. He was excited about the culture, the food, the song, dancing, and the spirit of the people. He wanted to be a part of this spirit until it filled him. He saw that when you are oppressed, a natural reaction is to rebel. He honored that and felt it was necessary. If that’s where all the action was going to be, he was going to be there too. He wanted to be a part of it all, and tell the story.
Brad took on danger but was not reckless. He was willing to take risks and challenge power, because good things can happen when we step out of our comfort zones. Beautiful moments arrive when we reclaim our lives, it’s magic. Some people think his joy invalidates his work, but he accomplished a lot and enjoyed every moment of it. He loved a good riot and a good party. Brad knew everyone and everyone knew him. There are few that have had such an impact on so many activists, on the movement and on the world as Brad surely has had.
A social upheaval began in Oaxaca, Mexico. Brad was 36 years old and he had been a committed activist for a long time. He maintained a calm vibe in crazy situations. People cautioned him not to go to Oaxaca, but he was determined to go anyway. Many of us supported Brad’s decision and knew that if Brad was called to go, then Oaxaca needed him. He was an anarchist and a firm believer in direct democracy. The APPO organization, in Oaxaca, is probably the most democratic organization of its size in the world. Brad found this very inspiring and its militant forms of action exciting. The situation was scary to him as well, since a dozen protesters had been killed at that point. He wasn’t sure if he was up for it, but he knew he had to be. The danger was secondary to documenting and participating in this very human struggle. On October 27th paramilitaries attacked a barricade in the Santa Lucia neighborhood. Brad went to film and didn’t stop even as the bullets flew past him. He ran to the front, bravely sharing the danger with the people of Oaxaca. Then a bullet pierced his stomach and he died before reaching the hospital.
Brad had sent out his last report a week before on October 17th, Death in Oaxaca: “Yesterday I went for a walk with the good people of Oaxaca – in the afternoon they showed me where the bullets hit the wall – they numbered the ones they could reach – it reminded me of the doorway of Amadou Diallo’s home – but here the graffiti was there before the shooting began – one bullet they didn’t number was still in his head – he was 41 years old – Alejandro Garcia Hernandez.” “A young man who wanted to only be called Marco was [there] when the shooting happened – a bullet passed through his shoulder – 19 years old – said he hadn’t told his parents yet – said he had been at the barricade every night – said he was going back as soon as the wound closed – absolutely.”
Now the indomitable spirit of Brad is gone and I think we are left with a question. He died doing what he loved. He died for what he believed in. Maybe he even died for us. We all have to die at some point. So, what are you going to die for? Whatever it is I can see Brad reaching out his long arms, “It’s all good bro,” and giving you a hug. That’s how I remember him. bradwill.org